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Robert Kulpa Discussion paper for the workshop:

Debating Anglo-Polish Perspectives on Sexual Politics,
Manchester Metropolitan University, Friday 3rd July 2009
In recent years, Poland and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in general have gained a noticeable attention in the UK gay community. This has mainly happened because of the xenophobic and hostile attitudes of populist and nationalist parties in many former communist countries. Increasingly, we could observe the emergence of a specific discourse about CEE and homophobia. At a glance, CEE was portrayed as largely dominated by ‘barbarian’ social and political groups, xenophobic societies who deny basic human rights to lesbian and gay people. Homophobia is wide-ranging, nationalists are taking over, and homosexual people are suffering. This sort of stereotypical imaginary was mainly influenced by some events in Poland and in Latvia and Russia. More precisely, it was a ban of “gay prides” and in some cases violent attacks on the peaceful lesbian and gay protesters that informed this discourse of “homophobic East”. However, the geographical idea of CEE is very problematic one, including or excluding various regions, also erasing any differences within the region. For example, the fact that Czech and Hungarian republics introduced certain legal regulations concerning same-sex couples is not discussed at all. Instead, an uniformed discourse of negativity is constructed. During the workshop, I would be interested in discussing further the problem of discursive construction of CEE as ‘homophobic’ by UK gay communities, and ask more probing questions. Why CEE is treaded as uniformly homophobic and any ‘positive’ differences are erased from it? What sort of power relations are being established in such portrayal of CEE (and by the reverse token: West/UK)? How can lesbian and gay communities of CEE profit of this discourse? How UK gay communities profit of that discourse? What is the agenda behind such discursivisation? These are only some of the questions I suggest for further discussion.

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On the other hand, I am also interested in CEE and specifically Polish discourses about homosexuality and lesbian and gay communities; originating both in a mainstream and in LG communities. Popular lesbian and gay discourses sustain the claim that Polish society is homophobic and intolerant and that Poland significantly legs behind other Western European countries. This mantra also involves (in most cases) some reference to European Union (EU) as a whip and/or a promise. The year 2009 closes the 20 years of post-communist transformation in Poland, hence many initiatives around the globe are being undertaken to summarise this period. Many conferences are being held, many overview articles are being written, etc. The similar trend is also observable within Polish lesbian and gay communities. For example the recent article of Tomek Kitlinski and Pawel Leszkowiecz on “Homiki.pl” portal, or this year’s “Equality Parade” in Warsaw organised under slogan: “40 years of equality, 20 years of freedom”. Also recently, Lambda Warsaw, one of the leading LGBT organisations, has opened a “Stonewall Fund” to support minor LGBT initiatives and commemorate Stonewall riots in 1969. Stonewall is also a point of reference for “40 years of equality” evoked in this years parade’s slogan. Pondering around the question of “History”/”history” I wonder what is the significance of those invocations? If we agree that history is a discursive field selectively created for the purpose of maintaining certain power relations and hierarchies (stance many contemporary historians insist on), I would like to discuss – What sort of history Polish lesbian and gay communities create? Why evoking Stonewall? Why Hyacinth? And why not Warszawski Ruch Homoseksualny (Warsaw’s Homosexual Movement)? Why not Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski? Etc… what is the significance of remembering and forgetting in the creation of contemporary queer politics? Why Tomasz Baczkowski, current organiser of pride, presents the 2005 parade as the “first” one, “forgetting” three previous events organised by Szymon Niemiec? Maybe it is a time to reflect again on the meaning of “personal is political” slogan? Along the question of history, it also has to be asked, if it is a true (as Kitlinski and Leszkowicz insist in their article mentioned above) that last 20 years did not bring any major breakthrough for lesbian and gay people? Is it a case that attitudes of Polish people towards homosexuality did not change? Is it justified to say that Polish lesbian and gay communities have failed and no success can be noticed? Is 20 years enough for major changes in society to happen? Or do we still need to wait before we herald success of failure?

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The third area of interest, which I would like to put on this workshop’s agenda, is the discursive creation of “gay identities”. The question of identities, identifications, “identity politics”, etc. is one that is constantly debated in lesbian and gay, and queer scholarships. There is an extensive body of work, comprehending of various epistemological and ontological points of view. This debate has also been part of the Western development of LGBT and queer activism. However, it seems that the question of identities an identity politics has not been discussed and critically assessed in the case of Polish LGBT activism. Dominant lesbian and gay organisations can be securely described as representing identity politics-type of approach. Initiatives as “Let Them See Us” (2002) or 2008 “Coming out” campaign (in cooperation with the main countrywide daily Gazeta Wyborcza) are the best examples of the essentialist approach deployed in Polish Lesbian and gay politics. Drawing on debates about queer/lesbian and gay politics, we should consider if identity politics, even if “only” used as “strategic essentialism”, are the only possible approach to pursue lesbian and gay agenda in Poland? Similarly, we should not accept without a question more “radical” “queer” approaches as “better”. We may better profit rather by asking what constitutes “queer” in Poland/outside of Western/Anglo-American context? Finally, the last problem I would like to raise for our debate is the discursive creation of “European Union”. It is not uncommon between lesbian and gay people (or for that matter, also “liberals” or any sort) to ridicule and dismiss conservative, populist an/or nationalist imaginary of “EuroSodomy”. These representations envisage EU as a moral swamp and Poland as the firm protector of traditional values, inc. family and “normality”. EU is constricted as alien, unnatural, unforeseeable, aggressive, oppressive and dangerous. Conversely, liberal” voices dismiss this image as unrealistic, imaginary, untrue, narrow-minded, etc. What is interesting in this process of liberal rejection of nationalist discourse about EU, is the alternative proposed. Liberal voices not only reject the negative image of EU, but also build up their own. I would like to scrutinise this discursive creation of EU as present within lesbian and gay community. I would like to ask: What constitutes “EU” in these discourse? What is the role of EU in general? And in particular relation to homosexuality? What is the role of EU as Polish lesbian and gay communities want it to be in relation to Polish state/governments? By posing those questions I hope to challenge some “liberal” convictions that conservative vision of EU is untrue, and only the liberal one correct. I hope to see how “EU” is constructed on both sides of discursive conflict and ponder about the agenda

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behind? Examine various strategies of empowerment and disempowerment of each side. *** Overall, my aim is to disrupt monolithic discursive constructions concerning homosexuality, lesbianess and gayness, Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, European Union, nationalism and liberal/conservative political ideologies. What I hope to contribute/take out of this workshop, is a better understanding of mechanisms behind certain social processes, other points of view that could help me contextualise my own research, and problematize issues mentioned above.

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